Coming to America
So this is what they call "hot stove" talks. It's about time Major League Soccer has had really intriguing offseason news such as the latest rumors swirling around three U.S. World Cup players who look to be heading home.
Here's what ESPN.com is hearing about Earnie Stewart, Joe-Max Moore and Frankie Hejduk.
Sources within the league said that the contract signing would most likely be completed in "the next 18 hours". However, that was Tuesday night. On Wednesday, that optimism changed to "an early next week" signing.
The holdup centers around the fact that both the negotiations with the league and the teams involved are going on at the same time and MLS wants to only make an official announcement when the contract is signed and his future team is known.
D.C. United has first dibs on the 33-year-old veteran of three World Cups, as he would be counted as an allocation. Actually, D.C. has the first two allocation slots by way of the trade that sent Jaime Moreno, Eddie Pope and Richie Williams to the MetroStars for Mike Petke and a draft pick.
It is believed that Ray Hudson covets both Stewart and Moore, but is praising Stewart's attributes to cover his interest on the former New England Revolution striker.
Should D.C. pass on Stewart, the only team in the league that has the cap room as well as more than a casual interest in him is Dallas, which just happens to be one of the cities on his wish list.
Based on one source that believes that Stewart will ultimately end up in Dallas, there's a good chance that Moore becomes the player who D.C. goes after (more on that later).
With Stewart on the Burn, head coach Mike Jeffries would have a lot of options in his midfield. Having played professionally in Holland for the past 14 years, and the last six-and-a-half with NAC Breda, Stewart has played a multitude of positions.
With Breda, he scored 50 goals in 189 games, mostly playing up front. The last few years, however, he was switched to an attacking midfielder position with the club. With the U.S. National Team, Stewart has been used as a right midfielder and in the middle on occasion throughout qualifying and in the World Cup.
Dallas currently has a playmaker in 20-year-old Joselito Vaca, whose name has been involved in trade talks with the MetroStars.
Chad Deering, a former National Team teammate of Stewart, joins him in the central midfield in more of a defensive role. Jeffries would most likely look to use Stewart as a flank midfielder opposite Ronnie O'Brien, who showed much promise in Big D after coming to MLS from Dundee United last year.
There's nothing against Stewart from playing up front with Jason Kreis at times, as well. Though he turns 34 in March, Stewart remains one of the fastest and fittest players in the U.S. and can always be counted on to finish, as he did in World Cup qualifying in 2001 with a team-high five goals in 10 games. Overall, Stew has scored 15 goals in 84 appearances with the U.S.
It goes without saying that Dallas is somewhat of a faceless team. Only locals and staunch MLS fans will mention the name of Kreis, who is one of the league's all-time leading goalscorers yet hasn't emerged as a true name in American soccer because his lack of success, and opportunity, with the National Team.
Stewart will give Dallas such a name, as well as a positive influence on and off the field.
Of course, Stewart landing in Dallas is all speculation, but it remains the surest bet as of now.
In fact, after the U.S.-Germany quarterfinal match he told one source within Major League Soccer that he was open to it for 2003 after earlier in the tournament suggesting he wanted to wait 2-3 more years.
Moore, who will turn 32 next month, wants to play here and MLS wants to sign him. That's the cold hard facts about it.
At one point earlier this week, the deal for Moore was further along than the one for Stewart, but hasn't been worked out as of yet. Perhaps that's because New England, where he played from 1996-99, has got involved in an effort to bring back the franchise's most popular player ever.
As is the case with Stewart, only Dallas and D.C. currently have the room under the cap to acquire him, as his salary would either be at the $270,000 max or just below it. The Revs would have to make a move or two to make something like this happen.
Should Moore be picked up by D.C. with their allocation selection, the former Everton striker will give Hudson a veteran presence amid a slew of teenage and early twenty-something standouts.
Both 18-year-old Santino Quaranta and expected No. 1 selection Alecko Eskandarian (University of Virginia) could learn a lot from a player like Moore who has played in three World Cups and has enjoyed stints as a professional in Germany and England.
Officials within MLS expect an announcement on Moore early next week.
The Swiss club has agreed to let Hejduk leave on a free transfer to Major League Soccer, which should become official in the coming weeks.
Hejduk's versatility as a midfielder and outside back will make him attractive to several teams. Only after Stewart and Moore are allocated will it become clearer on where he may wind up.
Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.